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how to start a consulting business

How To Start A Consulting Business In 2021 (6 Steps)

By Michael Zipursky
31 Comments

This is the ultimate guide on how to start a consulting business in 2021.

By the end of this guide, you’ll know how to turn your skills and expertise into a profitable and successful consulting business.

Let’s dive right in.

Contents

Step 1: Choose Your Consulting Business Model

First, let’s define the term consulting.

Consulting is “the business of giving expert advice to people working in a professional or technical field.”

For example, I’ve spent over 21 years being a consultant.

I’ve spent 10,000+ hours on marketing, sales, fees, proposals — and everything else that consultants do.

So, I’ve accrued experience that enables me to give expert advice to people in the consulting field.

If you can provide advice that helps business-to-business (B2B) or non-profit organizations based on your past experience, you can consult.

People and organizations will pay you for your advice to help them get results.

Results like more sales, a lower employee turnover rate, a risk-free software project, help with executive decision making — the list goes on.

But before you start consulting, it’s important that you choose your consulting business model first.

Why should you do this first?

At Consulting Success®, we believe that your consulting business should support your lifestyle — and not the other way around.

That means that you should build the type of business that helps you live the lifestyle you want to live.

I’ve seen too many people end up building consulting businesses that trap them into a lifestyle that’s just like their 9-5 job…or worse.

To avoid that, you’ll aim at the type of consulting business you want by choosing the right model for you.

Watch the video below for an introduction to the 4 proven consulting business models:

Let’s talk about each model.

The Solo Consultant Model

As a solo consultant, you work closely with your clients and complete the project work yourself.

For example: Kevin works with jewelry retailers to help them with operational improvement and growth. As a solo consultant, he works on all client projects and is responsible for their implementation.

The solo consulting model is great for you if you want a lean, profitable, and flexible consulting business — a “lifestyle” business.

The solo consulting model is not right for you if you intend to sell your business (because you are the face of it), and if you don’t like the fact that if you stop working, it will be challenging for you to generate revenue.

The Consulting Firm Model

In the consulting firm model, you are responsible for running the firm instead of just working on client projects.

For example: Amanda runs an HR consulting firm, where she helps technology companies with culture, hiring, and talent retention. Instead of working on client projects, she manages a team of consultants who are implementing projects for their clients.

The consulting firm model is great for you if you don’t want to be focused on the “day-to-day” work, want to build a business that runs without you, and would like to sell it one day.

The consulting firm model may not be the right fit for you if you don’t like managing people, don’t like the idea of a lower profit margin, and if you would feel stressed about making payroll.

The Productized Consulting Model

The productized consulting model is where you turn your expertise into a “productized service” — a repeatable series of steps that deliver a predictable outcome for clients.

For example: Kristen’s provides brand consulting for food and beverage brands. After years of delivering custom branding projects, she’s turned her expertise into a process. She’s branded this process, has put a fixed price on it, and delivers that instead of custom branded projects.

The productized consulting model is great for you if you want to build a business that scales, you want to create a saleable asset, and you want to remove yourself from the day-to-day work.

The productized consulting model might not be a great fit for you if you want to work on new projects or you don’t like managing or training people to deliver your productized service.

It also takes years of experience and delivering custom projects before you’re ready to turn it into a repeatable process that delivers a predictable result.

The Hybrid Consulting Model

The hybrid consulting model is a mixture of the previous 3 models.

You pick and choose what you like about the other models and combine them into your own unique hybrid.

For example: Our business, Consulting Success®, is a hybrid consulting business. We offer a digital course, Momentum, and a training program, the Clarity Coaching Program that includes personalized coaching and consulting with it.

The hybrid model is ideal once you’ve been running your consulting business for a few years. After a few years, you’ll know what you like, what you don’t like, and can start to customize your business model into what works best for you and your clients.

After reading those descriptions, examples, and pros & cons, which model excites you the most?

Remember: you can always change your consulting business model later.

But it helps to get clear on the type of consulting business you’d like to build from the start.

With that, let’s move on to the next step and think about your ideal client.

Step 2: Get Clear On Your Ideal Client

Who will your consulting business serve?

This is one of the most important questions you’ll answer to start a consulting business.

And it’s one that many people skip over.

As a result, it’s very hard for them to attract clients, price their services, and win consulting projects.

Pay particular attention to this step and take the time to get it right.

Watch the video below to learn why being crystal clear on your ideal client is critical to your consulting business:

Here’s how to think about choosing your ideal client.

The “Big Fish In A Small Pond” Mindset

Imagine that you’re dealing with severe back pain.

You’re looking for a physiotherapist who can help get rid of your back pain — so you can get back to living a healthy, active lifestyle.

So, you begin searching for physiotherapists to help solve your problem.

You find one clinic called “ActiveFit Physiotherapy.” They’re a generalist physiotherapy clinic that helps people with all types of pain.

After that, you find a clinic called “SpineExperts Back Pain Specialists.” They’re a clinic that specializes in helping people with their back pain.

Given your specific problem — your back pain — which clinic draws your attention?

Which one are you most likely to attend?

You’re more likely to go with SpineExperts because they speak to your exact problem.

It feels like they are talking directly to you — your pain, your problem, and the results that you want.

This example shows how important it is to get specific on who your ideal client is.

specialization vs generalization for consultants

As a consulting business, you provide your expert advice to people or organizations.

Who are those people or organizations, exactly?

The more specific this “who” is, the more your business will stand out to them.

Without standing out, your ideal clients won’t pay attention to your messaging and content (which is marketing).

They’ll be less receptive to having a call with you about how you can help them (which is sales).

To start a consulting business, you want to start by being the big fish in a small pond.

You’ll stand out more, garner more attention, and become an expert faster.

It will make it much, much easier to get clients. And clients are what you need to start a consulting business.

So how do you actually figure out who your ideal client should be?

Brainstorm & Write About Your Ideal Client

The next step is to brainstorm about the niche that you’d like to serve in your business.

A niche is an industry or type of client.

For example, Nic Campbell works with nonprofit and philanthropic organizations.

Jason Fearnow of Prime Contract Solutions works with mining companies.

Husain Shekhani of Ultrasonic Advisors works with companies in the ultrasonic device industry.

None of these consultants target “businesses” or even “small businesses.” These are far too general.

Instead, they serve a specific niche.

To start a consulting business, you must pick your niche.

How do you actually do that?

In our Clarity Coaching Program, we instruct clients to use the Niche Scoring Method.

consulting niche scoring method

Here’s how it works.

Pick a couple of niches that you’re interested in serving.

If you can’t think of any, pick the industries that you’ve worked with before. What industry does the company you work for now belong to? What about companies you’ve worked with in the past? Or, how about companies you applied to work at?

Once you’ve picked out a few of these industries, score them on the following factors on a scale of 1-5 — with 1 being weak, and 5 being very strong:

  • Experience: How would you rate your experience with this niche?
  • Expertise: How would you rate your status as an expert within this niche?
  • Results: How would you rate your confidence that you can deliver results for this niche?
  • Potential: How would you rate this niche’s growth and how willing they are to hire consultants?
  • Interest: How would you rate your interest in this niche?
  • Access: How would you rate your ability to speak with ideal clients in this niche?

Then, you add up the total scores for each niche.

Pick the one with the highest score to start with.

And pay attention to the “Interest” score.

You’ll enjoy your work more if it’s an industry or niche you are passionate about helping.

You can always change your niche later. But if you want to start a consulting business, you must pick a niche, and then go on to the next step.

Once you’ve made your selection, you’ll start talking to people about the potential of this niche.

Validate Your Ideal Client Potential

Picking your niche is the first step.

And now, it’s crucial that you validate your niche.

By validate, I mean going out and talking to people in that niche and learning about their problems and results that they desire in their organization.

People pay consultants to solve their problems and help them get their desired results.

Instead of guessing what those are, you validate your niche’s potential by asking them about these problems and desired results.

Use a tool like LinkedIn Sales Navigator to make a list of 10-20 ideal clients — people in the industry you’d like to serve.

Then, send them a connection request. In your connection request, send a message that introduces yourself, and that you’re connecting with people in your niche.

For example, if your niche is “Financial Services”, and you are connecting with Andrew, a CFO at a financial services company, you might say:

“Hi Andrew, you do great work at COMPANY NAME — would be great to connect with another person in the INDUSTRY NAME space.”

Notice how you’re not pitching anything like most people do.

You’re simply mentioning the person’s company, and that you’d like to connect with people in a similar space.

Tweak this example so that it suits your style.

The next step is to ask them a question. What are they working on? What’s new with their company?

Ask them something you are genuinely curious about.

If they are receptive and open to talking, you can ask them for a 5-10 minute call to learn more about that.

What you’re trying to do on this call is to learn about the industry — the problems they have, the type of projects they work on, and the results that they are working towards.

And if they have the types of problems that you’re interested in, can solve (or have solved before), then that is evidence that you’ve found a good niche to target.

Go and set-up these short, introductory calls with 10 ideal clients. Take notes on the call and record their feedback.

After you’ve done 10 calls, review your feedback.

client validation exercise

Is this a niche that has problems that you have experience solving?

Is this a niche that works on the types of projects that you can deliver?

Would you enjoy working with this niche?

You want to select a niche where you can answer “Yes” to the questions above.

Now, reaching out to connect with ideal clients and then asking them for a call might scare you or make you uncomfortable.

If starting a consulting business was easy, everyone would do it.

To start a consulting business, you’ll have to embrace this discomfort.

You’ll have to take imperfect action.

Reaching out to prospects and calling them is a big part of marketing and sales, which we’ll get to later on in this article.

If you can’t do that, then you might be more comfortable sticking with a 9-5 job.

However, if you make your outreach more about your prospect instead of about you or your services, you’ll be surprised about how willing they are to connect and speak with you.

So, who’s your ideal client?

What industry are they in?

What’s their job title?

How big is their company, and where are they located?

By brainstorming and validating your ideal client, you’ll write specific answers to these questions.

Your ideal client — who you serve and add value to — is the foundation of your consulting business.

Once you’ve got that foundation down, you’re ready for the next step.

You’ll write messaging that attracts these ideal clients to you.

Step 3: Write Messaging That Attracts Clients

I once had a friend who was looking into joining a weekly yoga class to work on his flexibility.

He worked a desk job, and outside of some running, he didn’t do a lot of stretching.

However, he was intimidated by most yoga studios.

They looked as though they were all for experienced yoga practitioners.

On their website and their advertisements, they showed off impossible-looking poses, ridiculously fit instructors, and all kinds of spiritual mumbo-jumbo.

He almost gave up his search.

But then, he came across one Yoga studio that spoke to him:

“Yoga For Stiff Guys — Get More Fit & Flexible With Our Relaxed Classes For Beginners”

This message attracted him like a magnet.

It spoke to what he wanted — yoga for beginners — but also who he was: a stiff guy.

That’s what good messaging does.

It makes your ideal client feel as though your marketing is speaking specifically to them.

It makes them take interest in your business and want to learn more.

Watch the video below to learn more about creating a magnetic message that attracts clients:

In this step, you’ll learn how to put together your magnetic message — and how to put it on display so that your ideal client starts to notice you.

Problems/Action/Results

Your ideal clients have problems they want to solve.

You, as the consultant, take actions to solve those problems.

As a result of those actions, your expertise creates results for your clients.

Problems, Actions, and Results are essential components of a magnetic message.

For example, let’s say you’re a sales consultant who helps enterprise software technology companies.

  • Problem: Your ideal client’s sales team is performing poorly.
  • Action: You offer a 6-week sales training program.
  • Result: On average, your program increases the sales team’s performance by 33%.

Consultants — especially beginners — tend to focus too much on the actions.

But if you really want to get the attention of your ideal clients, focus on results.

Your ideal client wants results, not just actions.

Do this exercise now.

Write down 10 problems that your ideal client has.

Write down 10 actions you can take to solve those problems.

And then write the result of each of those actions.

If you’re unsure of what problems they have, then you haven’t done enough validation from the previous step. That’s where you learn about the problems your ideal client is facing.

By writing down problems, actions, and results, you have the building blocks of a magnetic message.

Now, we’ll put these blocks into a formula.

The “Magnetic Messaging Formula

We designed the “Magnetic Message Formula” to help you write a simple, effective message to draw the attention of your ideal client.

Here’s how it looks:

I help [WHO] to [solve WHAT problem] so they can [see WHAT result]. My [WHY choose me]…

magnetic message formula

Inside the square brackets are your “variables.”

You fill them in with the right words to match who your ideal client is, the problem you solve for them, the results you create for them, and why they should choose you.

For example: I help enterprise software companies with underperforming sales teams so that they can boost sales and revenue. My 10 years of experience and 6-step program has helped over 20 clients boost their sales by an average of 33% in 6 months.

  • WHO: Your ideal client (ex: enterprise software companies).
  • Solve WHAT problem: The problem that you solve for your ideal client (their sales team’s underperformance).
  • See WHAT result: The result you create for your ideal client (ex: boost sales and revenue).

WHY choose me: Why your ideal client should choose you (ex: 10 years of experience and 6-week program has helped over 20 clients boost their sales by an average of 33% in 6 months).

The Magnetic Message has everything you need to draw the attention of your ideal client.

Its purpose isn’t to win the sale. It’s to simply get them interested in you and want to learn more.

consulting magnetic message
A “Magnetic Message” tagline

Use the example above to write your own Magnetic Message.

Your first message won’t be perfect. Instead, aim for “good enough.”

You’ll make it better once you make it public and start gathering feedback.

Applying Your Magnetic Messaging

Once you’ve written your Magnetic Message, it’s time to make it public.

It won’t draw the attention of your ideal clients unless you’ve put it in places where they can see it.

First, put it in your email signature.

That way, everyone you email will be aware of what you’re doing, who you’re serving, and how you can help them.

This is great for when you reach out to your ideal clients. It’s also great for creating referral opportunities.

You’ll interact with many people who don’t need your consulting service — but they know someone who might.

Second, put it in your LinkedIn profile.

Make your magnetic message your tagline.

Unlike your job title or the type of consultant you are, your magnetic message is more about your ideal client.

It’s about what you can do for them and the results you can create for them.

If ideal clients see your tagline, you want them to take interest and click to read your profile.

Finally, you want to put your magnetic messaging into your consulting website.

consulting websites

It should be one of the first things your ideal clients read when they visit your consulting website’s homepage.

And throughout the website, you back up your magnetic message with articles, testimonials, case studies, and other forms of content that demonstrates your expertise.

Your magnetic message won’t do you any good if it’s on a piece of paper in your drawer.

Put it out there and make it work for you.

Ask people to give you feedback.

Keep making it better and better until your ideal clients can’t help but want to learn more.

Once you start getting the attention of your ideal clients, you’re ready for the next step, creating your strategic offer — and pricing it.

Step 4: Create & Price Your Consulting Offer

By this point, you’ve chosen your consulting business model, gotten clear on who your ideal client is, and have written messaging that attracts that ideal client to you.

Now, you need to create and price your strategic consulting offer.

Remember: Your ideal client has a series of problems.

You, the consultant, have the expertise and experience to carry out actions to solve those problems.

As a result of your actions, you’re able to create your client’s desired results.

Your strategic offer is those actions you take to create your client’s desired results.

And your consulting fees are what your ideal clients must invest for you to work with them and achieve their desired result.

Creating and pricing your offers is a very nuanced topic. There are strategies for beginners and for more advanced consultants.

We’ll focus on beginner and intermediate strategies for now.

If you want to learn more about advanced strategies like value-based pricing, discovery offers, and retainers, check out our Momentum or Clarity Coaching Program.

Let’s start with a popular topic: setting your consulting fee.

Set Your Consulting Fees

Why do you pay for products or services?

Because you want to get a result.

If you purchase a massage session, you want your body to feel better.

If you purchase accounting software, you want an easier time managing your money.

Now, how much you invest depends on many factors.

  • How painful is the problem?
  • How reliable is the product or service?
  • How will getting this result impact your life?
  • How much money do you have to invest in it?

Your clients are paying for your service because they want a result.

And much they are willing to pay depends on these factors.

Consultants in our programs regularly charge $25K, $50K, or even $100K+ for a single project.

That might sound crazy to you.

But if you think about the results their clients are getting, these prices become much more understandable.

As a beginner, the easiest way to set your consulting fee is by using the hourly method or the project-based method.

how consultants set their consulting fee
How consultants set their consulting fees — taken from our Consulting Fees Guide

(See our consulting fees guide for a more in-depth tutorial on how to set your fees using these methods.)

With the hourly method, you charge your client by the hour.

It’s a good option for your first few consulting projects.

For example, let’s say you earn $80 dollars per hour in your day job.

Take your hourly fee and double it for your consulting projects.

You’ll charge at least $160 for consulting.

Why?

As a new consultant, you’re not working 40-hour weeks with your clients.

You have to spend just as much time (if not more) to actually go out and win business.

Your fee must account for this.

If it doesn’t, you won’t be able to do your best consulting work.

Clients are happy to invest higher fees if it means working with an expert and feel certainty about getting the results they want.

With the project-based method, you charge your client a fixed price.

It’s a better option than hourly because your clients know exactly how much they are paying upfront.

With the hourly method, they don’t have this same certainty.

For example, let’s say your consulting service will take 30 hours to deliver.

Take your hourly rate, and times it by 30.

$160 x 30: $4800.

Then, times that by 1.5.

Projects will take longer than estimated when starting out.

This multiplier helps account for revisions, scope creep, and any add-ons.

Once you’ve chosen a pricing strategy and set your fee, you’ll begin to create some options for your clients.

Create Three Options

Buyers like options for getting their desired results.

And when you offer them options, their thinking shifts from “Should I use you” to “How do I use you.”

So now, you’ll create three options to help your clients get their desired result.

NOTE: You will customize these options after speaking with each ideal client. You design your options to help your client get the specific results they want.

By having some stock options, you have a foundation.

It will be much easier for you to craft and customize your offers when you aren’t working from scratch.

Here’s how to think about your three consulting offers.

Option 1 – $

  • Basic offer
  • Minimum effort required
  • Provides value
  • Lowest investment

Option 2 – $$

  • Helps them get their result quicker than option 1
  • Provides more value than option 1 (ideally, without having to spend more time)
  • More value
  • Highest investment

Option 3 – $$$

  • If money isn’t an issue
  • Best results
  • Shortest time to result
  • Most value
  • Highest investment

For example, let’s say you’re a marketing consultant who serves accounting businesses.

Your client, Acme Financial Services, wants to win 3 new clients per month.

Each client is worth $500 per month recurring revenue to the client.

You offer her client 3 options:

Option 1 – $6000

  • Brand positioning overhaul
  • Website messaging audit
  • Direct outreach sequence

Option 2 – $15,000

  • Brand positioning overhaul
  • Website messaging audit
  • Direct outreach sequence
  • Website content strategy
  • LinkedIn content + outreach plan

Option 3 – $30,000

  • Brand positioning overhaul
  • Website messaging audit
  • Direct outreach sequence
  • Website content strategy
  • LinkedIn content + outreach plan
  • Search engine optimization
  • Lead-magnet development & implementation
  • Direct mail campaign

Notice how as the options increase in price, the value for the client increases.

The more they invest, the quicker they get their desired results, and the more certainty they get about achieving those results.

Think about it this way: your offer is a series of actions you take to deliver your client their desired result.

By offering multiple offers, you give the client about how they’d like to get their desired result.

Next, we’ll “brand” your offers and make them more intriguing to your ideal client.

Brand Your Offer

You don’t just offer “consulting.’

You offer more sales, increased efficiency, cost savings, stress reduction, etc.

So it’s important that your consulting services reflect that.

Branding your offer means to make them more memorable, unique, intriguing — and easier to sell.

No clients will be excited about a “sales workshop.”

But a 1-Day Sales Revolution Workshop?

That’s going to get people’s attention.

But how do you come up with a branded name for your offer?

Start by looking at your Problems/Actions/Results — specifically, your results.

Like a good headline, you want to include the result your clients want in the title of your offer.

For example, if your consulting services increase sales, then you want to incorporate that into the name of your offer.

Then, think about the format in which you deliver your consulting service.

Is it a workshop? Ongoing consulting? A bootcamp? One-off?

Add the format to the title as well.

Then, you’ll want to add a power verb to it.

Power verbs are action words that add color and force to your offer.

So, if you help your clients increase their sales by 33%, then use a word like “revolution” instead of “increase.”

With these three steps in mind, you’re ready to start brainstorming your offer’s name.

Here’s the formula: result you create + power verb + how you deliver it.

Example: 1-Day Sales Revolution Workshop.

Have some fun with this one.

Make it eye-catching. Make it original. Make it reflect your personality and style.

That’s what branding is all about — attracting the right people for you and your business.

Once you’ve created a few consulting offers, you’re ready to begin the marketing process.

It’s time to tell the world what you’re up to, and how you can help your ideal clients.

Step 5: Rev Up Your Marketing Engine

Early on in your consulting business, you can’t expect your ideal to come knocking on your door and asking to work with you.

You’ll have to find and approach them.

This is what marketing is for consultants: getting your ideal clients to know you, like you, and trust you.

When they know you, like you, and trust you, they’ll want to have a conversation with you about how you can help them.

At this point, you’ll start putting all of your work to the test.

Marketing is a complex topic — but in this step, we’ll make it easy for you to start reaching out and generating conversations with your ideal clients.

The Marketing Engine Mindset

Should you be on Instagram?

Is YouTube the way to go?

What about paid Google or Facebook ads?

There are thousands of ways to get the attention of your ideal clients.

However, most of these are shiny objects and tactics.

Some of them work, some of them don’t.

But if you don’t focus on what actually creates conversations with your ideal clients, you’re stuck in “no-mans land.”

Here’s what you want to focus on with your marketing:

1. Outreach: reaching out directly to start having meaningful conversations with your ideal clients.

For example, a direct LinkedIn message or email sharing valuable content with an ideal client to add value to their lives — and to get them interested in what you offer.

2. Follow-up: following up with ideal clients and adding more value.

For example, sending a direct mail to them — something they would find interesting, meaningful, unique (like a case study or white paper), and prompts them to reach out to you to learn more.

3. Authority-building: Publishing content to position yourself as an authority and to support your outreach/follow-up efforts.

For example, using your consulting website to publish articles that help your ideal clients.

If you combine outreach, follow-up, and authority-building, your marketing will be effective and fulfill its purpose: to build relationships with your ideal clients and to create conversations with them.

Now, reaching out to ideal clients might sound intimidating to you.

But this exercise will help.

Magic Number Exercise

People who write down their goals are much more likely to achieve them.

If you know your monthly revenue target, how much your average project is worth, and how many conversations with ideal clients it takes to win a project, you can be VERY specific on what it would take to reach your monthly goals.

For example, let’s say you want to make $50K per month in your consulting business.

Your average project is worth $25K.

And 1 out of every 4 conversations with an ideal client leads to a project.

That means you need to win 2 projects per month.

That’s 8 conversations with ideal clients per month — or, 2 conversations per week.

Now, the question is…

What are you doing TODAY to have 8 conversations this month?

We’ve created a simple spreadsheet for you to do this exercise and plug in your numbers:

Magic # Exercise Spreadsheet

Click File > Make a copy to save a copy of the spreadsheet for yourself so you can adjust the numbers.

This exercise makes it crystal clear as to what you need to be doing to reach your monthly revenue target.

It’s all about having more meaningful conversations with your ideal clients.

Now, how do you actually reach that number of conversations?

That’s what we’ll cover next.

Daily/Weekly/Monthly Plan

You need a plan — a daily list of activities — that will help you create X number of conversations with your ideal clients.

Remember your three key marketing activities: Outreach, Follow-Up, and Authority-Building.

You should be doing Outreach, Follow-Up, and Authority-Building EVERY DAY.

weekly marketing schedule

Early-stage consultants will spend more time reaching out to clients and following up with them.

Writing content to build authority is a longer-term strategy, whereas outreach and follow-up can create conversations very quickly.

You need to wake up each day and know exactly what to do every day in order to hit your numbers.

Doug Nelson, one of our Clarity Coaching clients, put his magic # everywhere around his home.

His day wasn’t finished until he had his required number of conversations with ideal clients.

As a result, he grew his consulting business to over $2M dollars.

Here’s a sample daily plan you can use to start your Marketing Engine:

  • 8:00 AM: Start your Marketing Engine outreach in the morning
  • 8:30 AM: Follow up with any potential clients from the previous day
  • 9:00 AM: Make warm follow-up calls
  • 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM: Client work
  • 2:00 PM: Marketing Engine conversations/Authority Building
  • 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM: Client calls and meetings
  • 4:00: Daily review (focus on the most direct path and stage of your marketing maturity)

If you follow this plan, you’ll be reaching out to ideal clients, following up with ideal clients, and creating content for your ideal clients — every day.

This is what it takes to reach your magic # and hit your revenue goals.

With your marketing engine up and running, ideal clients will start scheduling calls with you.

They’ll want to learn more about your offers and how you can help get them results.

This brings us to the final step of starting your consulting business:

Having meaningful conversations with ideal clients — and winning consulting projects.

Step 6: Generate Meaningful Conversations (& Win Your First Consulting Project)

You’ve created your consulting offers.

You’ve started up your marketing engine.

What’s the sign that it’s all working?

Your ideal clients are receptive. They want to learn more about how you can help them.

Of course, you help them through your strategic offers.

But how do you bridge the gap?

How do you take someone who’s interested in your services to say “yes” to your offer and send you the check?

That’s where sales come in.

Just the word “sales” might make you feel icky.

But in consulting, “sales” take on an entirely different meaning.

The Truth About Consulting Sales

When people who are uncomfortable with selling think about sales, they think about the loud, aggressive car-salesman who doesn’t care about the customer.

They just want to “close.”

The good news is that effective selling in consulting takes the opposite approach.

As a consultant, sales is about having a meaningful conversation with a buyer to learn about their situation and needs.

If you help improve their situation and add value, then you can tell them about your offer.

You’re not trying to “close.”

Instead, you’re trying to help the client get clear on their desired situation, what’s holding them back — and then (and only then) if you can help, you make them an offer.

So, what do you ask a client to have a meaningful, valuable conversation that leads to the sale if the fit is right?

Meaningful Conversation Sales Framework

To figure out if there’s a fit between you and an ideal client, you have a conversation with your ideal client that’s about their business, their goals, and their challenges.

This conversation is meaningful but it prompts the client to get crystal clear about the problem they are facing, where they want to be, and what’s holding them back.

If your expertise can help solve those problems and get them to where they want to be, then you introduce your offer.

We’ve created the Consulting Sales Conversation Framework, which is designed to create three outcomes:

  • The client accepts your offer on the call
  • The client says they will review your proposal at an assigned future date
  • The client says no to your offer.

Here’s a loose outline of the framework.

  • Part 1: Establish rapport. Ask your client a few questions about where they are from and what they are up to this week.
  • Part 2: Set the agenda. Give them an outline of the meeting, that you’ll explain your offer if there is a fit, and confirm that it sounds good to them.
  • Part 3: Learn about their current business and important details. Ask them questions about their problems, why it’s important to fix, and the impact it’s having on their life.
  • Part 4: Ask where they want to be. Ask them about their key goals in the next 6-12 months and what they want their future to look like.
  • Part 5: Uncover the main challenges. Ask them where they need the most help.
  • Part 6: Discovery “why now?” Ask them why it’s important for them to fix this now.
  • Part 7: Make your offer. If you feel as though your offer can help get them to where they want to be, explain how it helps solve their problems — and present your investment options.

After you finish guiding a client through this framework, they’ll often have questions — or “objections.”

When clients ask you questions about your service, it’s a good sign.

Objections just mean they’re interested.

Objection handling is all about answering truthfully which minimizes the risk the client is feeling.

After you hear an objection, write it down. Then, after the call, write your best answer to it.

After many calls, you’ll know all the objections your ideal clients have, and you’ll be able to handle them with ease.

Now that you’re having these calls with your clients, it’s important to track each one with the consulting sales pipeline.

The Simple Consulting Sales Pipeline

There is a very clear progression to take a prospect and turn them into a paying client.

The consulting sales pipeline is a series of stages that outlines this progression.

By using a CRM and pipeline to track this progression, you’ll have a much easier time understanding your “lead flow” — the amount of consulting business you have in the works.

What gets measured gets managed. Manage your pipeline, and you’ll have an easier time closing consulting business.

consulting crm pipeline

You can break the consulting sales pipeline down into 5 columns:

  • LEAD. You’ve identified the prospective client and have begun reaching out to them to set-up a conversation.
  • CONVERSATION. You’ve had a sales conversation with the prospective client.
  • PROPOSAL. You’ve sent a proposal to the prospective client.
  • WIN. The prospective client has accepted your proposal and you won the business.
  • LOSS. The prospective client has declined your proposal and you lost the business.
  • NURTURE. Most people you reach out to won’t be ready to buy or make a decision right away. In fact, even people who say ‘No’ to a proposal now, may buy from you later as long as you stay top of mind through your nurture process.

By having your leads organized in these columns, you’ll understand what aspect of your marketing or sales you need to work on most.

Remember: consulting is a long-term sales cycle.

That nurture column is very important.

We’ve had clients who have followed us for years before they were ready to invest in our programs.

If you consistently nurture and follow-up with your leads, then you create top-of-mind awareness. So when the need for your service arises, they’ll think of you.

Selling is an integral part of starting a consulting business.

If you can’t sell your consulting projects, you can’t earn revenue.

If you don’t have revenue, you don’t have a business.

But by following this 6-step guide, you know how to identify, message, market, and sell your ideal clients.

And that’s how you start a consulting business: by winning your first few clients.

Once you can do that, the logistics of starting will be easier.

What Comes Next? Start A Consulting Business Checklist

Getting clients is where consultants — especially new ones — struggle the most.

If you start your business by mastering this crucial skill, you’ll be in much better shape.

That said, there are some other considerations for starting your consulting business.

We’ve put together a simple checklist to walk you through the logistics.

Remember: focusing on your office or accounting before you can win clients is a bad idea.

Your ability to win new business comes first.

Start A Consulting Business Checklist

There are a few things you’ll need to set up a professional consulting business.

5 factors you must consider:

  1. Equipment
  2. Incorporation
  3. Accounting
  4. Legal
  5. Office

We’ve put together a checklist to help you start a consulting business and cover these 6 areas.

Equipment For A New Consulting Business

You don’t need much equipment to start a consulting business, but you’ll need a few logistical things.

  • An office space (can be a home office)
  • Telephone with voicemail
  • Mailing address
  • Computer/laptop with high-speed internet

Do You Need To Incorporate A Consulting Business?

In most cases, you don’t have to incorporate a brand new consulting business. But you should consider it.

  • I’ve incorporated my consulting business (recommended only if you are making far more than you need to live on — or if you’re at risk of litigation)

Accounting For Your Consulting Business

Trying to do my own accounting was one of my biggest mistakes as a young consultant.

Make sure you hire an accountant and set up a separate business account for your consulting business.

The return on your investment in time saved and with regards to your taxes will be worth it.

  • I’ve hired an accountant to do my invoicing and taxes
  • I’ve set up a bank account for my business

Legal Considerations

As a newfound consulting business owner, connect with a lawyer who understands small businesses. Then, if you have any questions, you can call them for help.

  • I know a lawyer who can help me with any legal questions I might have

Your Consulting Office

You don’t need a fancy office — but you do need a quiet space where you can do deep work.

My office space is distraction-free: where I can think, work, and make calls.

office for starting a consulting business

My temporary consulting office while in Japan. You can run a million-dollar consulting business from an office space like this

Now, you know everything you need on how to start a consulting business.

Follow these steps in order and get started!

Get Help To Start Your Consulting Business

Feeling a bit overwhelmed?

I get it. There’s a lot to this article.

If you’ve been excited about starting your own consulting business, you might even be feeling a little discouraged at this point.

That’s OK. There’s a lot of work ahead of you.

But now, you know how to start a consulting business the right way.

You now have a guide that gives you the process of building a profitable consulting business.

And if you’re still reading, taking notes, and not discouraged by the work ahead, then you’re serious about becoming a successful consultant.

If you’d like our help to guide you through this process so you can avoid spinning your wheels and hoping that you’re going about it the right way, get in touch.

Our Coaching Program For Consultants

We’ve helped over 500 consultants from all around the world in all different industries grow their consulting businesses and add six and seven figures to their annual revenues along the way.

Coaching has been the single best investment for our consulting business — and it’s the same for our clients.

So, are you ready to accelerate your success and realize your true potential as a consultant?

If you’re interested in learning more about our coaching program for consultants go here now: Clarity Coaching Program.

Why are you interested in starting a consulting business and becoming a consultant?

What are the biggest challenges you’re facing right now in getting your business off the ground?

Let us know and join the discussion in the comments below.

And if you enjoyed this guide, please take a minute right now to share it with others through social media!

31 thoughts on “How To Start A Consulting Business In 2021 (6 Steps)

  1. Otobele Akpesiri says:

    Great article Mr Michael, truly to establish a successful consulting business requires strategy, tactics and a proven mindset. I have been fortunate to be part of your mailing list, following your blog post and listening to your podcast for quite some time and it has truly helped me. Thank you so much for what you do.
    I will like to ask, how do one create a discovery offer? Is creating a discovery offer possible for all consulting practices?

      • Otobele Akpesiri says:

        Thank you Michael, as one new to the consulting business, I look forward to registering with your program once am able to raise the fee. I appreciate you

  2. Janice says:

    Really enjoying all of your articles and podcast. So helpful in getting my consulting business off the ground. Thank you Michael.

    • Appreciate the comment Janice and glad to hear you’ve found the resources here helpful. Wish you great success!

  3. This is super helpful. Did you really have a consulting practice for 18 years?

    • Hi Andrea, glad you found it helpful. I’ve been consulting and building consulting businesses for going on 19 years and have been working with consultants to help them grow their businesses for the last 10 years. Wish you great success with yours.

  4. This is very nice information. Thanks for sharing this informative information.

  5. Huzefa H says:

    Hello Mr.Michael,
    I am a 25yr old student pursuing my masters, i have experience of a year in the field of finance and accountancy and i am very much driven to start a consulting business, as i am excited towards helping a business grow and be profitable,so i just wanted to ask you that am I in a position to start a consulting business with this much experience or do i have to wait some more years to go ahead with consulting?
    Awaiting your reply.
    Thanks.

    • Huzefa, don’t wait for anything. Go after what you desire. I started my first consulting business my first year in university. I had a lot to learn and still do. Focus on your strengths and where you can provide value. That’s your starting point. From there work on developing your skills and expertise. Keep at it.

  6. Anthony Constantinou CEO CWM FX says:

    Your article shows the best practical way to start a consulting business. Novice will gain more knowledge from this.

  7. Andrew says:

    I’ve been in the restaurant business since I was five. I’ve continued to expand in a food service Industry in different areas. I’d like to further my career by becoming a consultant. Not only to help others but to learn more.My question is what is my first step to get started?

    • Hi Andrew! That’s great you’ve been in the industry since age 5! Here’s where to start: Identify your ideal client and who you want to serve that you can bring value to. Then go and have conversations with them to validate what they want and how you can help. If you’d like a proven guide to follow step by step to launch your consulting business use this: https://www.consultingsuccess.com/momentum

  8. Loved the information as I am in the process of forming a consultancy. Please feel free to send further guidance in particular regarding financials as I require assistance in that area.

  9. To start any business, it is very essential to make proper planning, set the budget, check out various issues that can happen later, risks involved while opening a business, etc.

  10. Femi Omotola says:

    My former supervisor sent me this when I shared my intention of starting an HR consultancy outfit with him. He mentioned he wished he had come across this before he started off his and now I know why! Thank you so much this is very useful since I am just starting!

  11. Aman says:

    Very Nice content

  12. Alison Lemeri says:

    Very much helpful Michael. I hope to start consulting in refugee camps in Uganda. I’ve always helped some local CBOs and refugees on finance and business respectively. Though not much paying, but its worth helping.

  13. KENT SOUTHERS says:

    I appreciate the story of you and your cousin … particularly the “dark period” and having relinquished the “dream job”, to come out on the other side.

    I just taught a workshop with a segment about being world class. Your story resonates with those principles.

    • Appreciate the thoughtful comment Kent and nice to hear the story resonates. Great to have you in the community here.

  14. Matthieu Cneude says:

    Really nice article! Thanks for that.
    I’m a web developer working for companies for 10 years (began to code 20 years ago) and I’ve worked quite a lot with CMS. I was thinking being a remote and international consultant, helping non-profit with their content (strategy and technical). Of course I’m afraid, I feel I don’t have enough expertise; so many things I don’t know…
    I’m definitely considering momentum though, it looks great!

  15. Stuart Paykel says:

    Is it possible to start as a side business to eventually wean out the current employee status? If so, how?

    • Hi Stuart, it is very possible and we’ve helped many people do exactly this. Take a look at our Momentum course for a self-study option or our Clarity Coaching program if you want to be coached through the process. Happy to help.

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